To be Catholic is to be a disciple of Christ. It is to accept and live out our identity as a son/daughter of God our Father. At the core of these is the personal call of the masses (the whole human race in fact); a call to be in relationship with our Creator. Contradicting as it may seem. Because to be in relationship requires us to be connected and we cannot be connected without being personal. Hence, the call to be a Catholic is a personal call. God calls us by our names; individually, directly, intimately.
And what follows a call is a response. What follows an invitation is a reply.
Being Catholic is a response; it is not a decision based on empty thoughts and visions, a belief founded upon nothing. We cannot reply and respond from the level of our intellect. Faith is not a product of an intellectual discourse involving my thoughts, feelings and ideologies.
Bl. Mother Teresa said, "Prayer leads to faith, faith leads to love, love leads to service, service leads to peace." Prayer is not bringing our wish list to God and asking Him to grant them. Prayer entails anything that builds our relationship with God. It does include praying for people and situations because our desires are a part of us too and we bring who we are into this relationship with God but we do not take Him as santa claus.
In prayer, we encounter God in a personal, intimate way and from this encountering, we experience Him as real and we also come to know Him and the infinite love He has for us that really does not make sense at all in the light of our constant unfaithfulness in our sinfulness. It differs from reading and discussing and listening to stories and Theology, all of which helps only to the extent of knowing about Him. I call it couple time… just as in any human relationship. It must be built upon personal encounters and an increasing knowing (not the superficial intellectual kind but in the deeper sense) of the other. Our response to God's call into a loving relationship with Him goes as far as our personal encounters with Him and to the extent to which we treasure, reflect upon and allow our God-encounters to internalise and shape our understanding of God. Rationalising cannot get us anywhere because God is far beyond our human ways. Our mortal intellectual capacities, however extensive it is, cannot bring us across infinity to reach this infinite and divine God.
The reason why I find it difficult to sit through Mass at times and why I get disillusioned from time to time is because I have been relying on external structures as the foundation of my faith, i.e. how interesting the priest's homily is, how charismatic the priest is, how nice the choir sounds, how respectable the pope is, etc. If the church is noisy, I lose focus. If the priest is boring, I start drifting. It is like a student who studies only when the teacher is interesting and nice. Then what happens when the teacher is not? Will it mean that I should fail my exams? Or should I then rely on my inner motivation to find resources, study doubly hard so that my results is not limited by the teacher's competence?
It is an internal structure that most Catholics are lacking in. We are not taking full responsibility for our faith and are using every possible external factor to justify why I am not a good Catholic. You see if I am unfaithful to my spouse. Sure I can say that it is because my spouse has become so naggy, someone else is younger and more attractive and who understands me better than my spouse, etc. But suppressed beneath the carpet, conveniently out of sight, is the truth that it is still my choice and like it or not, I have failed to live out my marital commitment. If I truly am serious about my marital vows, then nothing and no one can convince me otherwise. The foundation of my faith will be so strong that no earthquake or catastrophe can bring it down.
So I think as Catholics, the question for us is the same question Jesus asked His disciples, "Who do you say I am?" Not who Jesus is to him and her but who is He to me? Not why is he and her a Catholic but why am I a Catholic?
I do not speak on behalf of the Church. This is just my sharing in reply to a friend's thought-provoking email.